COVID-19 hospitalization totals in O.C. are nearing levels not seen since last summer’s peak. As of Tuesday, August 24, the Orange County Health Agency’s COVID-19 Dashboard showed 564 total COVID-19 patients in county hospitals, with 132 requiring admittance to the intensive care unit. 

On August 24, HCA also reported 517 new COVID-19 cases with six new deaths. Andrew Noymer, Epidemiologist at UC Irvine, said while some mild breakthrough infections are on the rise, he credited hospitalizations as the “money statistic,” emphasizing that he finds the current hospitalization levels “very concerning.”

Noymer added that he is most concerned with the fact that Orange County hospitals are quickly approaching the high level of patients from last summer’s peak – a time when a vaccine was not available. 

“In July of 2020, when we had the first wave in Orange County, we had 722 people in the hospital – that was the peak of the first wave, July 14, 2020,” he said. “722; in a population where no one was vaccinated. Now, we have a bit fewer, but not much fewer – in a population that’s 60 percent vaccinated. I’ve been watching hospitalizations closely, and they’ve stayed the same since last Wednesday in Orange County, they’re really holding steady. I hesitate to say that’s good, you want to see a decline.”  

Locally, in Irvine and other cities around O.C., it will be a requirement for city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or submit to weekly testing. Statewide, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order that would require all health care professionals, along with school staff to also be vaccinated. 

However, over the past year, there has been strong pushback against the use of face masks at school, namely from the Orange County Board of Education. On August 3, the OCBE filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom, challenging the state’s face mask requirement for school children, calling the order unsound and lacking scientific merit. 

The OCBE lawsuit, filed within the California Supreme Court, was rejected by the court on Wednesday, August 18. In a statement to Irvine Weekly, Attorney Robert Tyler, Tyler & Bursch, LLP, argued that Gov. Newsom’s orders are politically motivated. 

“It’s always a long shot when asking the California Supreme Court to take original jurisdiction. But we thought this was one they would take based on Governor Newsom’s own statements. How can the governor argue there is no emergency in one case, and still retain emergency authority over our state,” Tyler’s statement read. “It is hypocritical and appears politically motivated. It goes to show that once a politician gains this kind of authority, it’s going to take a significant effort to pry the emergency authority out of his grip. However, the court’s denial does not deter us from moving forward in the lower courts and we will decide our next step over the next couple days.”

During the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, August 24, Dr. Clayton Chau, County Health Officer and Director of the Health Care Agency said the state recently updated the guidance regarding facemasks at school. 

“Yesterday, the state health officer issued a new order informing schools that only the state health officer has the authority to issue the guidance for masks in school and no entity can issue any less restrictive than that,” Chau said. “We will be sending that out today, to inform that no individual, including myself, has the authority to issue guidance less restrictive than the state’s.”